Two years ago, Jake Sullivan was the only sophomore to make the New Albany High School baseball team, a team that at one point was ranked first in the Division II state poll.

Two years ago, Jake Sullivan was the only sophomore to make the New Albany High School baseball team, a team that at one point was ranked first in the Division II state poll.

Last season, he started in center field and was first-team all-district and all-OCC-Capital Division. It should come as no surprise that this season he's one of the team leaders and a target on the radar of several college programs.

But that is a surprise.

Three and a half months ago, Sullivan was in a hospital bed at Ohio State Medical Center, badly burned from a bonfire accident the week before.

"I didn't think I had a chance at playing," he said.

It wasn't just pessimism on Sullivan's part. The prognosis from doctors was that he likely wouldn't be able to play baseball again, and when coach Bob Talpas visited him in the hospital days after the accident, he figured he would need to find a new center fielder.

"I didn't think he would play," Talpas said. "I really didn't."

Sullivan described the incident, the 14 days in the hospital and the two surgeries that followed as "probably the hardest time I've ever had in my life, and the scariest." On Christmas night, Sullivan was with friend and teammate Zach Dempsey trying to get a bonfire started when things took a quick turn for the worst.

"I was starting it, and five gallons of paint thinner blew up in my face," Sullivan said. "It knocked me back about ten feet. I was on fire for a good five minutes."

"At that point, honestly, I thought I was going to lose my best friend," Dempsey said.

Dempsey immediately had Sullivan get down on the ground so he could attempt to smother the flames. Sullivan's parents, who had been inside at the time of the explosion, rushed outside and helped Dempsey put out the fire engulfing Sullivan. Starting with his face and working down his body, they eventually were able to stifle the fire. Sullivan's burns ended up being most severe on his legs, the last area to be put out.

He spent the next two weeks in the hospital and had two surgeries to graft skin from his right leg to badly burned areas on his left leg. When he returned home Jan. 5, he still was unable to walk. In fact, because the grafts initially healed slower than expected, Sullivan couldn't walk until late February. He didn't resume class at New Albany until Feb. 8.

As slowly as the healing process was at first, it seemed to accelerate immediately once Sullivan got back on his feet. By mid-March, his mindset on baseball had changed completely.

"I ran up to the school one day, and that was the day I was like, 'I'm going to play this year. There's no doubt in my mind,'" Sullivan said. "That was two weeks after (I started walking). I ran up and I was like, 'I'm going to be on the baseball field all year.'"

By that point, though, the start of the regular season was only a couple of weeks away. Although he has been in the lineup every day this season, he still has some limitations. For one, he won't be coming home with a dirty uniform too often -- he can't slide without risking damage to the skin grafts.

"I'd have to slide on my right leg, and I've been playing baseball for 15 years and I've never slid on that leg," he said.

Aside from the inability to slide and frequent soreness, Sullivan said he now feels like he is at full strength. He has been hitting third and batting near .400, according to Talpas. Despite an occasionally tired arm, Sullivan has been one of the top starting pitchers. He threw a no-hitter in an 11-0 win over Franklin Heights last Friday.

Talpas said regardless of the injuries, Sullivan has given the Eagles all the things they had expected coming into the season.

"I think they look up to him, they know he's been on varsity for a couple years and he knows what he's doing," Talpas said. "We just needed him to hit, as well, and be that three- or four-hole hitter for us. We needed him to be more consistent than he has been (in the past) at the plate, and I think he's done that."

Sullivan is hopeful that this season won't be his last on the baseball field. He has received interest from a few Division I and Division II schools, but he plans on waiting until after the season to make his decision.

Looking back, Sullivan said he's been able to find positives. For one, a dislocated collarbone suffered during football season was able to heal completely while he was immobilized in the hospital because of the burns. But to be sure, he said the incident has had a much more profound impact on his perspective on life.

"My friends have noticed a lot of changes in me," Sullivan said. "I'm a lot smarter about what I do. I don't do as much, really, because I'm pretty energetic normally. They say I'm more calm.

"I don't know, I think it taught me to live life like every day is your last. This is going to be your best day ever, because tomorrow could be your last one."

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedule for the New Albany baseball team:

April 22 -- Lost to Jonathan Alder 1-0. Chance Moore allowed five hits.

*April 23 -- Lost to Mount Vernon 14-2

*Last Friday -- Defeated Franklin Heights 11-0. Jake Sullivan pitched a no-hitter.

*Last Monday -- Def. Olentangy Orange 10-6

*Last Tuesday -- Played Big Walnut

*Last Wednesday -- Played Franklin Heights

*Friday -- At Big Walnut

Saturday -- At Otterbein vs. DeSales and Whetstone

*Monday -- Home vs. Delaware

*Wednesday -- At Mount Vernon

Of note: The Eagles were 8-7 overall and 5-1 in the OCC-Capital before last Tuesday.

*OCC-Capital game